Updated: Mar 23, 2021
For decades, Downey’s City Council has prided itself on the quality of Downey’s groundwater. Yet, in 2011, resident Andrew Davis criticized the City Council for saying “how good Downey's water is but they all were drinking from bottles of Dasani.” Mr. Davis was corrected by then-Council Member Mario Guerra who said, “this is Downey water.”
As recently as 2018, the Downey Reyes Coca-Cola Bottling Plant at 8729 Cleta St—centered in Downey, near the intersection of Firestone and Lakewood—gave tours to the California Water Environment Association (CWEA), and pictures from the tour confirmed that Dasani, as well as many other Coca-Cola products, are bottled at the Downey facility.
Is Downey’s water contaminated?
In 2020, water advocates in Southeast L.A. mounted a protest campaign against Christina Garcia, an Assembly Member in the region, for what they saw as her push to private water systems through her SB 625 bill. Simultaneously, the protest movement drew attention to PFAS contamination in neighboring communities like Pico Rivera.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are class of pollutants harmful to human health, notably to sperm quality. They were introduced by DuPont and 3M in commercial and industrial products, and have been branded as "forever chemicals" because they do not decompose in the environment.
Throughout Downey's 2020 water movement, Downey’s City Council rejected the idea that Downey’s water is unhealthy. Former City Council Member Alex Saab gave a Spanish-language interview and said “The water is completely healthy. It is completely clean, as always.”
However, a Political Life investigation has uncovered that not only is Downey’s water heavily polluted—with harmful PFAS—but City staff is actually encouraging the City Council against taking immediate action.
Internal memo shows PFAS contamination near Coca-Cola Bottling Facility
Political Life has obtained a February 2nd, 2021, memo sent by Downey's Public Works Director to Downey's City Council. The memo (available for download here) outlines two classes of PFAS: PFOA and PFOS.
Listing the results of water quality tests, the memo says "Notification Levels of 5.1 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 6.5 ppt for PFOS were exceeded in all 18 wells."
We sought to audit these numbers through direct inspection of the lab data reported in the memo. Our inspection showed that Well 16, which the City's public disclosure places on Cecilia Street—a short drive from the Coca-Cola's bottling facility and across from Downey High School—has the highest PFAS contamination in Downey's water system. All other wells are also contaminated.
What will be done about Downey's PFAS contamination?
California requires water agencies (like Downey Public Works Department) to notify local governing bodies such as City Councils when certain PFAS contamination levels are exceeded, "which is the purpose of this notification," reads the memo in reference to itself.
It concludes, "No further City Council action is required at this time," which is legally true, but ignores the fact that cities like Pico Rivera already raised the alarm and are taking action based on similar levels of PFAS contamination, such as installing filtration systems in classrooms.
As of writing, Downey has no publicized plans to address PFAS contamination. There is also no word from Coca-Cola, which is exporting Downey's water throughout the Southwestern United States. Notably, independent tests have shown the Coca-Cola products are contaminated with PFAS. Downey's Coca-Cola facility has yet to release records as to the PFAS levels in its Downey-produced beverages.
March 22nd, 2021, Edit. Central Basin Municipal Water Director Leticia Vazquez Wilson agreed to interview in regard to this matter. She gave us a tour of Downey's water facilities, and commented on the status of PFAS in the City of Downey.
Concerned community members may write to the City Council.
Mayor Claudia Frometa | firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Pro Tem | email@example.com
Council Member Sean Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org
Council Member Catherine Alvarez | email@example.com
Council Member Mario Trujillo | firstname.lastname@example.org